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BWW Interview: Leah Turley and Rachel Sharp of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK at Alban Arts Center

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BWW Interview: Leah Turley and Rachel Sharp of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK at Alban Arts Center

Anne Frank and her diary have endured as one of history's greatest - yet ultimately saddest - stories.

Anne, only a teenager, wrote what would ultimately become one of World War II's best diary memoirs; a dramatic tale of a family who spent over two years in hiding from the Germans, concealed behind a bookcase in her father's workplace where they were joined by the VanDaans and Mr. Dussel, a dentist.

Through Anne's words we learn about the heartache and the fear that these courageous individuals felt - yet also the laughter and the unwavering hope which seeped through despite the circumstances. Ultimately, The Diary of Anne Frank is an incredible look at a young girl on the brink of adolescence facing an uncertain and terrifying world, yet one who refused to allow that world to break her.

After Anne's untimely death her diary was adapted into over 70 languages and eventually into a stage play.

The stage play brings both the highs and the lows of Anne's amazing story to vivid life, recreating her time in hiding in stunning detail. While viewers may know the ending, there is still much to be learned through Anne's unwavering optimism and hope in the face of incredible adversity.

I had a chance to speak with the director of Alban Arts Center's production of The Diary of Anne Frank, Leah Turley, as well as the show's star Rachel Sharp, who portrays Anne Frank.

Leah Turley - Director

Leah Turley explained that COVID changed her original plans for the show, but how it also allowed her to innovate.

"Originally it was set to be the first performance produced through Alban Arts Academy, meaning we'd cast the show from Academy students and technical classes at The Alban would function as the crew," explained Turley. "I'd been playing with this idea of the Academy producing a show for a couple of years but hadn't found the right show, but then I re-discovered The Diary of Anne Frank and thought, 'This is the perfect show!'. However, due to COVID, we weren't able to offer as many classes and many parents weren't yet comfortable sending the kiddos back to extracurricular activities - which is completely understandable. While the academy has continued to do amazing work during a global pandemic, I didn't want our first Academy production to be as restricted as is necessary for the health and safety of the cast and crew."

BWW Interview: Leah Turley and Rachel Sharp of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK at Alban Arts Center
Behind the Scenes

"This afforded me another opportunity to implement an understudy program I've been thinking about since COVID. I wanted to develop a program at The Alban in which high school and college students could understudy experienced actors in our community. The understudies would then get to perform for each Sunday matinee. It's such a cool opportunity to mirror professional theatre standards and prepare young actors for the next step of their career," said Turley.

"So I revamped my original concept and cast an experienced group of adult actors to portray the characters in the play. I also cast two understudies: JD James will understudy Ethan Lyvers in the role of Peter VanDaan and Fiona Sullivan will understudy Rachel Sharp in the role of Anne Frank."

Turley added that she chose to produce Anne Frank due to the history behind the story and what it meant to her.

"I wanted to produce a play which addressed a time period in our history in which humanity was at risk," explained Turley. "There have been countless times in the last decade in which I've felt humanity was at risk, and while we've had some dark and deadly moments, good has always prevailed over evil. Sometimes it takes a lifetime - but it always happens. The story of Anne Frank and her family and friends is a story of hope, ultimately. It's a story about ordinary people that did extraordinary things and showed remarkable bravery in the face of hatred and violence."

BWW Interview: Leah Turley and Rachel Sharp of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK at Alban Arts Center
Behind the Scenes

Turley went on to explain some of the difficulties of bringing such an iconic story to life on stage.

"I think the actors really struggled with the reality of these characters: that they were real people, who existed, and many of whom died at the hands of the Nazis. Acting is truly about empathy. You have to step into someone else's shows and live and react as the character, which means thinking about your character's fate." stated Turley.

"We know how this story ends. There is very little mystery. I kept reminding the actors that to truly honor these people and the unimaginable pain they suffered; we have to portray them truthfully and earnestly. These people deserve to be portrayed as three dimensional characters, which means they are flawed just like the rest of us. Real life heroes aren't perfect - they're human. "

BWW Interview: Leah Turley and Rachel Sharp of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK at Alban Arts Center
Anne and Peter - Rachel Sharp and Ethan Lyvers

"I also had to remind them that these characters are being viewed through the lens of a 13-year-old girl, who had her own judgments and opinions that certainly made their way into her personal, private, diary."

When asked whether Turley felt that the show maintained the heartbreak and optimism of Anne's words, she argues that the show portrays Anne's courage, rather than her fear.

"I don't think any of her words are heartbreaking, even the most frightening stuff; mostly because her voice, as a writer, is somewhat nonchalant - almost business like at times. This kind of nonchalance is such an indication of bravery and the establishment of normalcy."

"Humans are hardwired to create normalcy to maintain sanity. Even in the darkest of times, Anne never seems surprised by her circumstances. Instead Anne's personality, sense of humor, wants, and desires reveal themselves through her relationships with her family, the VanDaans, Mr. Dussel, Miep, and Mr. Kraler. Her most dramatic writing comes from teenage quarrels, arguments with her mother, and the challenges of living in such tight quarters."

As for whether Turley believes that The Diary of Anne Frank is important during these times of unrest in our country, she stated, "In the past five years there has been a resurgence of hate crimes against people of Jewish faith - there's been an increase in hate crime, period. The Diary of Anne Frank stands as a monolith for hope in the face of violent devastation."

Turley went on to explain what she hope that audiences will gain from this production.

BWW Interview: Leah Turley and Rachel Sharp of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK at Alban Arts Center
The Frank Family - Anna Ruth Beaty, Rachel Sharp, Natasha Allen, and Adam Stephens

"I hope they gain some hope and some perspective. I was in a play one time and complained to the director that this or that was hard. He stopped me and said, 'No, cancer is hard - this is just acting,' and he was right. There is a real sense of perspective when examining Nazi Germany or the brave struggle the Frank family endured. Has COVID been challenging? Yes, but the lock down and all we've endured is absolutely nothing compared to the confinement of the Franks, VanDaans, and Mr. Dussel."

Turley explained that her favorite scene in the show is not a dramatic moment, but rather a scene of levity in the midst of bleak circumstances.

"I think I enjoy the date scene the most. It's this beautiful little moment about falling in love for the very first time. Despite the insurmountable circumstances that Anne and Peter are living through, they're still experiencing life for the first time. Life continues despite our circumstances."

Turley went on to speak about the challenges of staging a virtual stream production rather than performing in front of a live audience and whether it is easier or harder to set up.

"It's basically one hundred percent more work for everyone: the tech is more complicated, set/costume/prop design is more detailed, they are nine billion cords to keep up with (HDMI, sound, light dimmers, etc), and the actors don't have any interaction with their audience. They are playing to an empty, silent, house - so their challenge is to stay alive and energetic. They have to create their own audience. They have a whole little world up there on stage."

BWW Interview: Leah Turley and Rachel Sharp of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK at Alban Arts Center
J.D. James and Fiona Sullivan

In closing Turley urged audiences to support the arts, as they are truly suffering due to COVID restrictions.

"COVID has really and truly hurt the performing arts, but more specifically community and educational performing arts organizations. The more people that see our production, the more money we make to produce another one, the more sponsorships we can get, the more grant opportunities we have, and so on."

"When the pandemic hit, Americans turned to entertainment for comfort and escape; Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and HBO saw huge increases in subscribers beginning in March of 2020. Without the hard work and dedication of performing arts educators and community theatre organizations, you don't get the kind of entertainment that streaming industries provide - there isn't a magic portal in NY or LA that spits out trained artists and technicians. That work happens at your local community theatre, in your middle and high school drama clubs, and in university theatre - all right here in WV."

Rachel Sharp - Anne Frank

BWW Interview: Leah Turley and Rachel Sharp of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK at Alban Arts Center
Rachel Sharp

Rachel Sharp is working overtime on this production, both portraying Anne Frank, a task which she describes as inspiring, and by helping run the camera during performances when the understudies are on stage.

I spoke with Sharp about Anne's incredible optimism despite the hardships her and her family endured and asked why she believes that Anne was able to retain her personality despite the circumstances.

"Anne chose to cling to the good," explained Sharp. "Countless times throughout the show we hear her list the things she loves: her faith, other people, nature, and art - despite having every reason and opportunity to be angry. Anne ultimately dwelt on good and lovely things instead. I believe that makes all the difference."

Unlike Turley, Sharp's favorite scene in the play isn't one of calmness, but rather one of ferocity.

BWW Interview: Leah Turley and Rachel Sharp of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK at Alban Arts Center
The VanDaan Family - David McBrayer, J.D. James, and Jennifer Anderson

"My favorite scene is when Edith Frank stands up for herself," explained Sharp. "She confronts everyone in the annex with the weight of their decisions, and it's sobering to witness. It was one of the most enjoyable scenes to work through as a cast and our Edith (Natasha Allen) does a wonderful job."

As for rehearsing during a pandemic and performing via virtual stream rather than to an audience, Sharp said, "it has certainly been interesting! This is a unique story to tell without a live audience. We only have one another on stage, adding to the loneliness of it all. However, it has been a wonderful exercise in focusing on our scene partners and grounding ourselves in the moment."

Sharp also explained how she came to run cameras as well as perform in this production.

BWW Interview: Leah Turley and Rachel Sharp of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK at Alban Arts Center
Rachel Sharp as Anne Frank

"There was a need and I said 'yes!' By filming, both Fiona Sullivan (Anne's understudy) and I are put in a rare position of understanding Anne's life both on stage and on camera. It has allowed us to develop this character together and recognize even the tiniest nuances in one another's performances. Filming this production has been a privilege, to say the least."

In closing, Sharp stated, "I hope the show is an exercise in empathy and self-reflection for all," adding that Anne's story brought to mind two Bible verses: Philippians 4:8 - 'Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things' and Romans 12:9 - 'Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good."

Show: The Diary of Anne Frank
Performance Dates:
February 19th, 20th, 26th, and 27th, 2021 at 8:00 PM and February 21st and 28th, 2021 at 2:00 PM
Type of Performance: Virtual Stream
Ticket Price: $15.00 individual, $25.00 a couple, or $45.00 for a family.
Where To Purchase Tickets: You can purchase tickets online here.
Additional Information: Purchasing a ticket will grant you a link to watch the show live from your computer or other capable device. You can view the Facebook event page here. You can contact the Alban Arts Center via email at albanarts@gmail.com


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